In 2004, French director Catherine Breillat had an infarction, which partly incapacitated her. Soon thereafter, she met a professional crook, Christophe Rocancourt, to whom she offered work as an actor. As their relationship became more intimate, she wrote him cheques for a total amount of nearly €1million, after which he disappeared. In Abuse of Weakness, the filmmaker settles things with herself through a fictional account that is not biographical, she emphasises, but rather recounts what she went through, after telling the story in a book in 2009. In the film, the director lets the spectator decide which one of the two is in control in this complex relationship. On screen, the central duo is played by Isabelle Huppert and rapper and novice actor Kool Shen. This Franco-German-Belgian coproduction is currently on the program of the London Film Festival and film will be released in France in February.
It took me some time to understand what had happened to me.
Cineuropa: You find it difficult to move away from this story. Why make a film about it when you already told it in a book?
Catherine Breillat: I always say that cinema and literature are two completely different things. Writing a book enables you to develop a complex story, but a more linear one than with a film. With cinema, the use of images gives you the possibility of showing something and its opposite at the same time. This double reading seemed essential to me for this story that the public read in the press and in my book without really understanding what really happened.
What was the most difficult part to film, given that this story is anchored in a very personal situation?
It took me some time to understand what had happened to me. I needed to make this film and finish it for him too. In a way, he was a man who showed true feelings and who was the best possible support for someone in my situation – because after the infarction, I needed physical assistance.
You usually work with unknown actors, but this time you chose one of Europe's most famous actresses to play Maud, a character very close to you?
I chose her because I trust her blindly. She's like a great musician capable of playing a piece impeccably without needing a Stradivarius. During filming, she never asked me how I had approached the facts, because she wanted to compose her own character. She didn't need me to explain how partially paralyzed people move. She did all the work herself and, even if sometimes the way she played the character could bother me, I knew that that was part of the various readings cinema can offer at the same time.
Although Christophe Rocancourt is nearly a gigolo, you looked for a rapper to play his fictional character, Vilko Piran. You found him in Kool Shen. Why was it important for you to establish this difference?
I thought that on screen the story would work better with a character whose personality fills the room, a brutal, nearly violent figure. I wanted to make a stronger distinction between the physicality of the man and the weakness of the female character. In France, Kool Shen is a cult musician, quite controversial, and that was useful to create the character.
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